IS THERE A MISSING NEW MINAS HISTORY? (August 30/02)

A footnote in an edited, indexed copy of his historical sketch of Kentville tells us he was a Judge of Probate and that he died in 1900 at age 75.

Other than this tidbit of information, I’ve been unable to find any other reference to Edmond J. Cogswell in local history books. The exception is Eaton’s Kings County history where Cogswell is briefly mentioned and an excerpt from his historical article is quoted. Otherwise, E. J. Cogswell is a man of mystery who left some tantalising hints that he researched and wrote a history on the early days of New Minas.

On several occasions, I’ve quoted from Cogswell’s historical sketch of Kentville. This is a detailed and interesting view of Kentville’s early days. Historian W. C. Milner must have felt that Cogswell’s work was important since he quoted excerpts from it in his book on Acadian and Planter times around the Minas Basin.

Besides the historical sketch of Kentville, Cogswell obviously wrote a similar sketch of New Minas. This is apparent from reading Eaton’s Kings County history; in the history, Eaton prints what Cogswell wrote about the early settlement of New Minas. And while Eaton doesn’t suggest there was more, it’s difficult to believe that a scholar, researcher and history buff of Cogswell’s stature would be satisfied with only writing a few hundred words about an important Acadian settlement in Kings County.

For the benefit of readers who have no access to the Eaton’s Kings County history, here’s what Cogswell wrote about New Minas.

“Minas, with its dykes, consisted of the village along the banks of the upland, with the Grand Pre lying in front, and with Long Island and Boot Island bounding it on the north. As new lands for settlement were wanted, some of the inhabitants went up the Cornwallis River and found a place that seemed curiously familiar. There was a piece of marsh somewhat resembling the Grand Pre, with Oak Island lying outside it. On the edge was a similar chance for settlement to that furnished by the upland that bordered the Grand Pre. They therefore put in short dykes at each end of Oak Island, reclaimed a considerable piece of marsh, built themselves some houses, and called their settlement New Minas.

“In later times French cellars have been numerous here, and we know from the vitrified debris that has been found that at the expulsion the houses above them were burned. The centre of the hamlet was what afterwards became known as the Foster farm. The French burying ground is said to have been on a little knoll near the railway track. To the south and east of the Griffin house a chapel was built, part of the foundation of which can still be seen in the bushes. It would seem as if there was a burying ground here too, and tradition says that not far off was a mill. After the removal of the Acadians the English built their village further south on the military road, but although they left the old site they retained the name New Minas.”

After reading the above, I was left with the feeling that Eaton only quoted a fraction of what Cogswell had written about New Minas. In his Kentville sketch, Cogswell shows that he was a diligent researcher and as a Judge of Probate, probably had access to manuscripts pertaining to the Acadians and Planters.

Would such a scholar as Cogswell be satisfied with writing the brief sketch that Eaton quotes? I don’t think so. Somewhere – and most likely in the dusty files of a New England institute where Eaton did much of his research – there is a history of New Minas up to the end of the 19th century.

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